Earlier this year longstanding rumours of the Volkswagen Group considering entering F1 resurfaced with the prospect of a new power unit era only a few years away. Ofcourse it’s only natural for manufacturers to be keen to dip their toes into the World’s most famous and prestigious motor racing series, and it’s natural for rumours to resurface even when no there is little to no new evidence of support.
During the Austrian Grand Prix weekend at the start of July, Porsche CEO Oliver Blume and Audi CEO Markus Duesmann attended a meeting to finalise Formula One’s 2025 next-gen power unit regulations. Sustainability, automotive relevance, cost reduction and emotiveness were the key factors discussed in the exclusive meeting that even Toto Wolff couldn’t attend. Instead Wolff was represented by Daimler chairman Ola Kallenius.
Volkswagen seemingly made a genuine bid to join the F1 grid for 2014 when the sport’s last new power unit era began with the all-new 1.6 litre V6 Turbo Hybrid units coming into effect. After the brand subsequently pushed their entry back to 2015, they decided against joining the grid after all – instead allowing Honda to be persuaded back by McLaren for a disastrous reunion with a power unit simply not up to the correct standard of development. Maybe Volkswagen are counting their lucky stars that the same fate didn’t befall them.
Nowadays Porsche and Audi both compete alongside each other in Formula E and will both return to the World Endurance Championship’s LMDh category in 2023.
However Audi is withdrawing from Formula E as part of a restructuring for the future. A future it says only includes the World Endurance Championship, off-road rallying and customer supply for GT racing. Therefore Audi’s involvement in F1’s power unit meeting is all the more baffling as, publicly at least, they are not interested in F1. The company also plans to make it’s road cars range all-electric from 2026.
The apparent plan to double the amount of electrical power in an F1 car for 2025 is something Porsche are keen to be a part of, but Volkswagen has many other brand names, and so brand agendas, at its disposal that may be suited to an F1 entry – Porsche or Lamborghini being the most likely. Let us not forget who is the current CEO of F1 and who was also present in the Austria meeting – Stefano Domenicali, the former CEO of Audi’s Lamborghini.
In 2015, Domenicali oversaw and developed a study to see if it made sense for Audi to enter F1.
In 2021, the news of VW’s interest in F1 certainly created a stir in the Formula One paddock, with Aston Martin’s Executive Chairman Lawrence Stroll saying he “would certainly welcome and embrace the entry of the VW Group.
“I just think it would show the strength of the sport. The stronger groups that are in the sport is better for everyone involved, whether it be fans, whether it be team owners, whether it be FOM or FIA.
“So I know [Volkswagen are] quite engulfed in conversations about returning with one or two of their brands, and I am very excited and supportive, and I look forward to them coming into the sport. I think it would be great.
Mercedes’ Toto Wolff has hinted at the likelihood of Christian Horner’s Red Bull Powertrains name being taken over by one of the Volkswagen Group brands, believing it’s only “logical” for it to be considered.
The Red Bull brand’s ethos is to market its energy drink through extreme sports, and its F1 team does that perfectly, therefore the powertrains side doesn’t necessarily need to be named Red Bull too. Instead the value of selling off the name of one of F1’s best engines in one of F1’s best cars at the time of an upcoming engine freeze looks to create a no brainer – eventhough Horner denies there are talks happening.
Horner has even gone as far as saying that he doesn’t think F1 “should bend itself out of shape to accommodate a specific manufacturer.”
In a strange twist of fate, Australia’s cancelled 2021 Grand Prix and the uncertainties surrounding several other Grands Prix presents an opportunity for F1 to attract VW. This is due to Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund QIA holding a 14.6% share in the Group, and so the very real offer of an emergency calendar filling event at Qatar’s Losail MotoGP circuit could be used to lure Qatar into pushing a future Volkswagen entry.
But eventhough Porsche themselves by all accounts are keen to have their own entry into the sport, the current deposit price to enter a brand new team is $200million – a huge obstacle when convincing a board of investors. Then there’s the cataclysmic cost of building the brand new team from the ground. A simple name change or takeover of an existing power unit (that has backing from the mighty Honda behind it) perhaps with the hope of assisting Red Bull’s aim of building its own 2025 power units from scratch, is evidently a more efficient way to become a successful force in Formula One.
Nonetheless in yet another twist, rumours surrounding the strength of the bond between the Volkswagen Group and Williams Racing’s CEO and Team Principal Jost Capito (the former VW motorsport boss) perhaps opens up an opportunity for a Williams-Volkswagen works deal if a Red Bull Powertrains partnership doesn’t come to fruition.
Capito has enlisted several allies from his days at Volkswagen, straight into Williams’ restructured leadership team so a deal of this nature would make sense behind the scenes. But on the technical side only recently was a deal struck for Mercedes gearboxes alongside a solid customer engine supply from the reigning champions.
This time round the rumours look strong. In whatever form, Volkswagen is surely on its way to F1.